Sophie loves rides-the faster or bumpier, the better. Just ask her poor dad who typically has the privilege of riding along with her on anything that spins. She just loves that vestibular stimulation, like many kids with autism do. We decided to head over to the State Fair today to give Sophie some of that nausea-inducing fun. We even invited a playmate (and former classmate) of hers to come along, parents in tow of course.
As expected, Sophie was having a fantastic time. She looked just like any other kid riding on the ponies and ferris wheel, grinning and laughing the entire time. I took lots of pictures and a few videos with my phone and was thrilled to get a video of her on the carousel wearing a cowboy hat yelling, "Yee Haw!" Too funny.
Some of the rides were for children only, meaning that they needed to be able to ride by themselves. Sophie usually has no problem doing this, so we didn't think twice about putting her and her pal on a little boat ride that went around in a circle on water. Things were going great until the water proved to be too temping for her. Like many individuals on the spectrum, Sophie LOVES water, so naturally she tried to lean over to dip her fingers in the water. I yelled to her several times to keep her hands in her boat. At first she listened, but then it was just too tempting. As the ride was stopping, she was trying to dip her whole hand in the water. The ride operator came over to her, probably unaware of her disability, tried to tell her to keep her hand out of the water. When Sophie didn't respond, the lady actually grabbed our little girl by a lock of her hair and pulled her up to an upright position.
I don't need to tell you how disturbing that was to see. I immediately yelled to the woman, who appeared to be in her 60's and missing more teeth than she possessed, not to touch my child in such a way. Sophie's companion's father was standing beside me at the time and began yelling to her as well. Many other parents watched in disbelief. I stood there, almost shell-shocked, thinking to myself that clearly I must have just imagined the whole scenario. One mother came over to me and said I needed to head over to Guest Relations. Another physically placed her own son on the ride herself in order to avoid the operator needing to help him climb into his boat. At that point I snapped the operator's pic with my phone and went to complain.
The gentleman at the Guest Services booth escorted me back to the ride area to question the woman. Her response, and I kid you not, was, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I was just playing". Say whaaaaat? So I went off, telling her she most certainly was not "playing", and that she of course had no right or reason to touch any child that way, let alone a child with autism. I explained to her that Sophie may not always respond to people. She again emphasized that she was sorry along with a whole bunch of crap about only trying to "gently touch some of the hair behind her ear". Not quite, honey. We clearly saw her pull Sophie's hair. Sophie was fine, but that wasn't the point.
She was sent back to operating the boat ride and was reassured by the gentleman from Guest Relations that her behavior was unacceptable and that "before the day's end, she will be fined $25".
My 4 1/2 year old daughter, my baby, was just (for lack of a better term) assaulted by an old, toothless carny. And she got to go back to work. Meanwhile our day was completely ruined. I wish I had enough sense at the time to have taken a video of the conversation we had, because this is rather serious. She should've been fired on the spot, and as many of my Jersey Facebook friends suggested, had the shit pulled out of her hair to see how it felt.
Trust me, this is not over. This CANNOT happen again- to any child. It's despicable, and I'll be sure to keep you all posted.